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Phthalates linked to obesity in African-American children

A US study has identified a possible link between phthalate exposure and obesity in African-American children. Researchers at New York University School of Medicine, University of Washington and Penn State University analysed data on urinary phthalate metabolites in samples collected from 2,884 children between 2003 and 2008 for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (Nhanes).

Phthalates have been documented to have anti-androgenic effects and may disrupt lipid and carbohydrate metabolism. The researchers hypothesised that phthalate exposure might be linked to increased body weight and obesity in children (CW 12 April 2012). Taking into account confounding factors, they found a positive association between increased levels of low molecular weight urinary phthalates and increased body weight and obesity prevalence for non-Hispanic black children. This association did not appear in samples from other ethnic groups.

The researchers say the reasons for this association are not clear but surmise that different population groups may be exposed to different sources of phthalates. They conclude that further study is needed to confirm the association, and to evaluate possible genetic and epigenetic mechanisms and exposure sources that may have contributed to this study’s findings. Further study is also needed, they say, to understand possible mechanisms through which low molecular weight phthalates may influence body weight in early life.

The study is published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

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